Opinion: Thomas S. Bremer: National parks are sacred. But they were created at a cost to Native Americans.

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By Thomas S. Bremer

Abraham Lincoln has an almost sacred place in American history: “The Great Emancipator” whose leadership preserved the Union and abolished slavery during the Civil War.

It is often overlooked among the achievements The law signed on June 30, 1864during the thick of the war – but little connected to the conflict. Yosemite Valley Grant Act California’s Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove are designated as parks “for the public use, recreation, and recreation . . .

has been One time The federal government designated land for its scenic value, and created the model for America’s national parks, themselves sacred places in American culture. Originally granted to the state of California, Yosemite became America’s third national park in 1890.

At the same time, however, the establishment of national parks had dire consequences for Native Americans across the continent. My research on the Religious History of America’s National Parks It shows how religious justifications for establishing parks contributed to the persecution of Native Americans, a fact that the National Park Service has begun to address in recent decades.

American civil religion

with More than 300 million annual visitorsThe United States’ national park system is a precious resource. This includes spectacular scenery, opportunities to interact with wildlife, outdoor recreation and commemoration of important places and events.

But the importance of the parks goes beyond that. National Park Service national parks, historic sites, battlefields, and other places are sacred places. In American civil religion: Symbols, practices, and traditions that make the idea of ​​a nation sacred, seemingly blessed by a higher power.

First he paid attention Sociologist Robert Bellah, Civil religion Along with common religious traditions such as Christianity or Buddhism, it has its own sacred images, places and rituals. In the US, these include George Washington and Martin Luther King Jr., the American flag and the Pledge of Allegiance, and national holidays such as Independence Day.

I watched Many of the nation’s civil religious sanctuaries are at sites maintained by the National Park Service, from Philadelphia’s Liberty Hall and New York’s Statue of Liberty to South Dakota’s Mount Rushmore.

Furthermore, the national park system is a testament to the destiny of the United States’ civil religion. This 19th-century notion held that Americans had a divine blessing to expand the nation’s borders. As a historian Ander Stefansson He writes in it A book about destiny manifestthe idea of ​​”the right to continental expansion guaranteed by provision or history” became the key word.

This westward expansion came at the expense of Native Americans and other groups that previously inhabited the territory. For many Protestant Christian Americans, the sublime appearance of natural places like Yosemite and Yellowstone confirmed their belief that God intended for them to colonize and settle the American West in the decades following the Civil War.

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The first national parks were established Products such as Manifest DestinyIt was in the midst of a national push to bring land from the Mississippi to the Pacific Ocean to the United States, which many white Americans saw as a mission to expand the settled Christian community.

Since of Yellowstone in 1872Following the Sequoias, Yosemite, and Mount Rainier, the early 19th-century parks were symbolic of American civil religion. In the eyes of many Americans, the beauty of the pages confirmed their faith The United States was special and divinely favored.

Westward expansion had dire consequences for American Indians, and the first national parks played a role in forcing their removal, according to historians. Mark David Spence recorded. Converting lands into national parks for the enjoyment of visitors means displacing communities whose ancestors have treasured those places for generations.

Following the creation of Yellowstone, the world’s first national park, a band of Shoshone people for generations – in Tukudika, or Sheep Eater – Moved to a location in Wyoming. A similar situation in Nitsitapii or Blackfeet peopleWhen Glacier National Park was established in 1910, their treaty rights were revoked.

On the contrary Yosemite Indians In California, a group of Miwok people known primarily as the Ahwahneche remained in Yosemite long after it became a national park. But in 1969 They have been removed from the park. Decades of harsh regulations, economic pressures and bankruptcy.

A new era

The National Park Service has developed over the past few decades Acknowledging Native American connections to parksbegins to explain the history of manifest destiny and the marginalization of indigenous peoples.

The agency was a key contributor to the Department of the Interior’s recent streamlining. Tribal collective management of federal lands. Although much remains to be done, national park managers are increasingly consulting and collaborating with tribal officials on a variety of issues.

Deb Holland, the first Native American to hold a cabinet position in American history, started this process. Review and replace derogatory names On federal lands – one of the first acts as the secretary of the interior. For example, she described the term “squaw” — a slur against Native women — as particularly offensive, saying, “Racist words have no place in our native language or on our federal lands.” Within a year of its publication 24 places in the national park system It had new names.

Other aspects of the park service’s collaboration with tribal communities include acceptance Native American methods of using deliberate fire To survive Healthy, thriving ecosystems. These indigenous traditions have become part of the routine Fire prevention and management efforts throughout the park system.

Tribes have collaborated with various national parks to restore buffaloes. Historically, these animals have been central to many tribes as tools, clothing, and blankets, not only as a source of food and materials, but also in Traditional spirituality. Department of the Interior 2020 Bison Conservation Initiative and cooperation with Intertribal Buffalo Council They helped restore herds with bison in national parks on Native American lands Yellow stone, Badlands And Grand Canyon.

Perhaps the most visible initiative, from a visitor’s perspective, is the Stories of Native American culture and history Demonstrations, Ranger Talks, Roadside Shows and the National Park Service website, Amplify native sounds In the parks. These programs have begun a process of reconciliation and healing – working to make civil religion more inclusive and democratic.

Thomas S. Bremer He is an associate professor of religious studies and American religious history Rhodes College.

This article was reprinted from The conversation Under a Creative Commons license. Read Original text.

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